Minister confirms European nuclear talks start next week

Government will publish its own position paper “imminently”

The government is due to start negotiations next week on the future of its post-Brexit international nuclear trading arrangements, the energy minister has revealed.

Winding up a debate this morning in the House of Commons’ Westminster Hall on Euratom negotiations, Richard Harrington said that the talks would start on Monday following the publication of Euratom’s position paper.

He said that the UK government wold be publishing its own position paper “imminently” and rejected concerns, expressed this week by radiologists, that withdrawal from Euratom would cut off the UK’s supply of radioactive isotopes used in cancer treatments.

Harrington, who was appointed to the energy brief in the recent post-election reshuffle, said that there would be “no restriction on trade in radioactive isotopes”.

“Contrary to what has been in the press, they (the isotopes) are not classed as a fissile material so are not covered by the non-proliferation treaty which is the driver of the nuclear safeguards regime.”

Albert Owen, the MP for the north Wales constituency of Ynys Mon and the debate’s sponsor, said that the government’s push to quit Euratom was driven by politics.

“It isn’t essential that we leave Euratom just because we are leaving the EU,” said Owen. “We are leaving because No 10 has a red line. It is a political reason not a legal reason, law is an excuse.”

John Woodcock, MP for a coastal Cumbrian constituency that relies on the jobs generated by the Moorside nuclear station, condemned the government’s “steadfast refusal to countenance remaining in the (Euratom) treaty”, which he said put at risk the rescue deal for the plant’s redevelopment.  

But David Jones, who was a junior minister at the Department for Exiting the EU until the election, said that any suggestion that the Euratom exit is political was “unfounded”.

Harrington said that the UK had to leave Euratom because of the ‘inseparable relationship’ between the nuclear community and the wider EU. 

In a sign of growing resistance on the Tory backbenches to leaving Euratom, a number of MPs spoke in the Westminster Hall against the move. 
 
Bob Neill, a former Tory local government minister, warned the government against “cutting off your economic and scientific nose to spite your political face”.
 
“We should do all that is possible legally to maintain those benefits, by whatever means it takes. We should not allow any thoughts of ideological purity to get in the way of achieving that,” he said. “My judgment is that if we can legally remain within Euratom, we should do so.” 
 
Trudy Harrison, the Tory MP for the Copeland constituency that neighbours Woodcock’s, said it was "vital" for the future of the nuclear industry for the UK to remain within Euratom or retain close relationship with it.

Author: David Blackman, policy correspondent, Utility Week,
Channel: Policy & Regulation
Tags: Parliament of the United Kingdom , UK , Trading , Government and NGOs

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